Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Getting to Know Amina Wadud: Review of A Jihad for Justice

Published by Muslimah Media Watch, Copyright, All Rights Reserved
A couple of weeks ago Kecia Ali, Juliane Hammer, and Laury Silvers presented the e-book A Jihad for Justice: Honoring the Work and Life of Amina Wadud (the link takes you to a full PDF of the book: http://www.bu.edu/religion/files/2010/03/A-Jihad-for-Justice-for-Amina-Wadud-2012-1.pdf). The e-book is meant to be a Festschrift, a German word for “a collection of academic essays by students of a significant scholar upon [her/his] retirement,” as described in the introduction.

The pieces in this book are largely written by academics, yet it comprises a great and honest effort not only to celebrate Dr. Wadud’s life, but also to make room within the academy for personal experiences. While some of the pieces remain highly academic, with scholarly concepts and references to very specific sources, others are quite accessible in that they relate to daily life and reflect personal experiences.
Amina Wadud
Dr. Amina Wadud. Image via the Jakarta Post.

The e-book contains six sections, titled Readings, Inspirations, Continuations, Imprints, Encounters and Embraces respectively. It also features a list of Wadud’s publications and interviews, as well as a list of publications by scholars that have engaged with Wadud’s work. The writers represent a great diversity of mostly scholars and activists in progressive Islamic thought. Among the authors we find Michael Muhammad Knight, Debra Majeed, M. Laure Rodríguez Quiroga, El-Farouk Khaki and Sa’diyya Shaikh.

One of the things that I liked most about this book is that it does not only revises Dr. Wadud’s contributions to the academic world and Islamic thought, but it also gives us a glimpse into her own personal life and her multiple identities as an African-American Muslim woman. In this book we get to know Dr. Wadud as the daughter of a Methodist minister originally named Mary Teasley (before her shahada in 1972), as a convert to Islam, as a single mother, as a scholar, as an imama, as an African-American, and as a progressive Muslim woman with an ambivalent relationship with feminism.

In addition to that, most of the writings in this e-book are permeated with the personal experiences of these scholars and their sometimes troubled relationship with Islam and feminism. What makes the personal stories compelling is that first, we can see that underneath the scholar there is an actual person, and next, we can see the different paradigms that scholars of Islam, from theologians to lawyers, have struggled with.

All the pieces go back to the impact that Dr. Wadud has had in Muslim scholarship, her role as an activist, and her overall courage in presenting contemporary Muslims with the issue of gender relations in Islam in recent years. In some instances, the writers present Dr. Wadud and her book Qur’an and Woman as the light at the end of the tunnel in answering hesitations and addressing concerns regarding gender in Islam. Among my favorite pieces I find the one by Debra Majeed and the one by Zainah Anwar and Rose Ismail

Yet, I must say that I was really drawn by the pieces written by Michael Muhammad Knight and by Amanullah De Sondy respectively.

In the first essay, Knight tells us about his spiritual reaction to Amina Wadud’s mixed congregation prayer. He later compares Dr. Wadud to Malcom X in their respective struggles for gender and racial equality. Beyond that, Knight brings up the whole question of unity in the community and the dichotomy of progressive vs. conservative Muslims. He makes an important point in explaining Dr. Wadud’s headscarf (which she wears depending on the context) and concludes that categorizations may not be all black and white. Knight ends by saying:
“While some of us remained unsure whether to surrender to pressures for false unity under a monolithic, unchanging and unchangeable Islam or an equally false unity under a shallow pluralism on Western terms, Amina Wadud helped us towards a real unity, a unity that could embrace both courage and respect.”
In the second piece, De Sondy’s writing stands out among pieces that deal mainly with women’s equality or gender as a whole by shifting the paradigm and asking, what about masculinity? De Sondy’s piece does not only bring masculinity to the table, but it also asserts Dr. Wadud’s influence in talking about more than just “women’s issues.” His piece calls to “develop a wider understanding of what it is to talk of men and women.”

All in all, the book represents a very personal and sincere effort to ask, what does the work of Amina Wadud mean for me? I especially appreciate that in this quest most of the writers have decided to step out of the academy for a second in order to write beautiful pieces accompanied with poems and blessings.

And as far as Amina Wadud is concerned, although there are things that as readers or Muslim practitioners we may agree or disagree with, she has made a tremendous impact on the way we look at gender issues, progressive Islam and perhaps practice in general. Thus, I take this opportunity to wish Dr. Wadud the best in her future academic and liturgical endeavours.

Azeem Ibrahim: At the heart of what matters (is not lgbtq rights?)

My opinion: Azeem tries very hard to moderate the position of Scottish Muslims (this is good, I think) but to this end his message is discreetly homophobic.  I guess this is the only way you can appease the Bashir Maan brigade! Layered into a discussion of 'oh we have other, bigger issues', he makes it quite clear that there is no place for lgbtq Muslims to ever seek their right to marry or live full and happy lives within Islamic theology.  "It is accepted that theologians in most monotheistic religions believe that marriage can only be between a man and a woman – a position they are all fully entitled to hold, without pressure to change." ---  It takes a keen eye to see what political commentators do with lgbtq issues and it stinks!  "It is nonsense to suggest that legislation is an attack on Islam, or indeed any religion." -- well, it's time to attack the version of Islam that Bashir Maan and Azeem Ibrahim seem to be painting all Scottish Muslims with.   

Azeem Ibrahim: At the heart of what matters

The imam council is looking backwards, according to Azeem Ibrahim. Picture: Robert Perry The imam council is looking backwards, according to Azeem Ibrahim. Picture: Robert Perry
Scotland’s imams should not be opposing gay marriage but focusing their energies on the real threats facing young Muslims: drugs, poverty and crime, writes Azeem Ibrahim

It IS ironic that just as I read that the Islamic Society of Northern America (ISNA) is meeting former US president Jimmy Carter to discuss social justice, I also read of the Council of Glasgow Imams and its decision to enter the politics of gay marriage.

ISNA is looking outward, and the imams’ council is looking backward. Muslims in Scotland are not being represented by the imams’ council, a body made up primarily of imams from the Indian sub-continent, many of whom do not speak English and do not relate to the lives of most young Muslims.

Gay marriage is a subject that continues to be discussed in the US media during the Republican presidential campaign. Long recognised by most people to be a civil rights issue in response to discrimination against the minority of gay people, it is accepted that theologians in most monotheistic religions believe that marriage can only be between a man and a woman – a position they are all fully entitled to hold, without pressure to change.

Politically, however, the concept of civil unions as a civil right to be determined by civil law, not religion, is becoming more acceptable by the majority of educated liberals in most countries. This is why it is so disappointing to read of the Glasgow imams’ council deciding to enter the world of politics by telling their congregations not to vote for a candidate who may support gay marriage.
This conflation of Church and state is being played out in the US currently by conservative, fundamentalist elements and should have no place in politics.

The governments in the US, the UK and Scotland do not have the power or the intention to force anyone to perform a same-sex marriage and churches and mosques are completely free to carry on solemnising wedding ceremonies as they please.

It is nonsense to suggest that legislation is an attack on Islam, or indeed any religion. The imams should recognise that along with the Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland, they have the right to disagree.

Civil contracts recognising a union of two people in the eyes of the law should not be seen as an attack on the religious sensibilities of church or mosque. Whether called civil unions, marriages or contracts, they should not be an issue and when performed by a judge or a mayor in a city hall they are a legal contract quite separate from a religious ceremony.

Imams certainly have their right to express their religious opinions on the matter, but trying to force their religious views to influence the laws of the land is a throwback to the past. Britain has evolved through a long and painful history of Catholic against Protestant, with bloody wars and centuries of unrest until religion and the state finally established their respective, respectful distance.

Young Muslims today are politically aware; they respect the rights of minorities – in Palestine, for example – and appreciate the values of justice and tolerance that underpin all the great world religions. Muslims in Scotland, as in the rest of the western countries where Muslims have settled, are facing much more important challenges than the issue of gay marriage.

Islamophobia, the growing Muslim prison population, the alarming rise in drug use among Muslims and the breakdown in families caused by divorce is causing deep anxiety in the Muslim communities across the UK.

Outdated teaching in mosques is seen to be leading to a dramatic rise in the prison population of a generation of young men feeling disconnected from their religion, according to Ahtsham Ali, an adviser to the UK Prison Service. He says that the rise in the Muslim prison population by 50 per cent over five years is a sign that mosques should move with the times to prevent young Muslims from becoming disillusioned and alienated from their culture and religion. Overseas clerics all too often fail to engage with young British Muslims, and this is part of the reason for a breakdown in relating the teachings of Islam to problems in society like drug abuse, forced marriages and broken families.
The Muslim prison population in the UK has reached 10,600 in 2012, according to reported figures, and accounts for 12.6 per cent of all prisoners, a huge over-representation considering that just 3 per cent of the population is Muslim.

The tragedy is that Muslim prisoners are still being treated as if they are potential terrorists in spite of the fact that fewer than 1 per cent are in prison on terrorism-related charges. The dedicated work of a growing network of Muslim chaplains is leading to more recognition by prison authorities that Muslims are not a homogenous group and that while some of them hold radical and extremist views, they are in the minority.

The Glasgow imams should also recognise that Scottish Muslims are fairly well educated and enlightened as, for example, forced marriage is already a criminal offence in Scotland. The Home Office is looking into making it a criminal rather than a civil charge throughout the UK as the forced marriage protection order is failing to provide an effective protection for the approximately 400 young girls known to be coerced into arranged marriages in 2011.

Young girls have been forced into arranged marriages and the practice leads to young women being taken away from school, limiting their social and educational development and restricting their opportunities of becoming financially independent. Any parent who forces a child into marriage is not acting out of love, whatever their claims to the contrary.

This cultural tradition is fast becoming an anachronism in society today, where young and educated Muslims recognise that the Koran is clear on the importance of upholding justice. Drug abuse, however, is an insidious social problem that has recently taken hold among Muslim young people, and a study in Blackburn, Lancashire, shows that there has been a threefold increase in the number of Muslims being arrested for drug offences in the last four years.

In spite of their being 24 mosques in Blackburn, young Muslims are turning to drugs not just because of poor housing, low wages and unemployment but also because of the erosion of traditional ties to mosque and family.

In Tower Hamlets in London, the heroin abuse problem is reported to be at an all-time high among Bangladeshi youth. In Waltham Forest, the Noor Ul Islam Trust is working in the community to remind Muslims that Islam is the better way and is now providing drug-counselling at mosques.
This is surely a more pressing problem for Muslims to be addressing than gay marriage. Rather than watch helplessly while we raise a new generation lost to drugs, crime and extremism, let us encourage our leaders to be far-sighted and wise in their promotion of Islam and encourage their communities to vote according to who will best address the challenges of the youth rather than an issue which will have little bearing on them.

• Dr Azeem Ibrahim is a lecturer at the University of Chicago, fellow and member of the board of directors at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and a former research scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and world fellow at Yale. He obtained his PhD from Cambridge University.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Scottish Muslim leaders are trying to forcefully lead those they don't represent!

My view: They can bury their head in the sand no longer! The same Bashir Maan who shouts Islamophobia is the same 'Muslim leader' who can't even appreciate his own disgusting discrimination of marginalised communities.  It goes without saying that the vast majority of under 30's who identify as Scottish and Muslim will have very different ideas from Bashir Maan who stands in a long line of moderates and elders who bully out progressive voices in 'the name of Islam'. Diverse progressive voices do exist! Speak out Scottish Muslims!

This news report from STV News: All Rights Reserved, Copyright
18 April 2012 15:49 GMT

Muslim religious leaders are urging people in their community not to vote for any candidate who supports same-sex marriage in the upcoming council election. The Council of Glasgow Imams issued a "resolution opposing same-sex marriage" at the city's Central Mosque on Wednesday, which said the proposed legislation was an "attack" on their faith and fundamental beliefs.

They said the "main purpose of marriage is, of course, the procreation of children" and that because gay couples have been "accommodated" through the legalisation of civil partnerships, there is "no need for such unions to be blessed as marriages by faith institutions".

The council is based in Glasgow but the message is being sent to Muslims all over Scotland.
Spokesman Bashir Maan said: "It's totally against not just our faith but most of the faiths. So the Government would be forcing the groups to break their faith to go against it."
In January this year political leaders signed a pledge to support a campaign to legalise same-sex marriage.

Leaders of the Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and Conservative parties signed up at an event at Holyrood which was marked with a specially created "equal marriage" cake. The Scottish Government has held a public consultation on the issue and has said it "tends towards the view" that same-sex marriage should be introduced but that faith groups and their celebrants should not be obliged to solemnise the ceremonies. With none of the main parties opposing the legislation, Mr Maan said Muslims do not have to vote at all. He said: "I would say that if they don't find anybody who is against the legislation then I don't think they have to vote. It's not compulsory that they must vote. "We will vote for anybody who does not support the legislation, that's it."

Mr Maan, a former Labour councillor for the Glasgow Kingston ward, said even if the legislation is brought in, there is no way same-sex marriage would ever take place in a mosque. However, he said the view is not discrimination. He added: "We didn't say anything when they were being given the right to civil union. If it was discrimination we could have said no, this is wrong. But we said if the Government does it and they want it, let them be. "It's not discrimination, we are just trying to defend our faith. They already have the law, their unions are legal, so why do they need it?"

The Council of Glasgow Imams's statement said: "This resolution has been prepared by the imams (religious leaders) of the Muslim community following lengthy discussions which have taken place to address deep concerns in our community. "Furthermore, we must now make it clear that in the following days, preceding the local authority election in Scotland on Thursday May 3 we will be urging our community from the pulpit to make sure that any person they consider voting for does not favour the proposed legislation."

It went on: "A family is a man and a woman and children. If the Government turns a family into a man and a man or a woman and a woman with no procreative faculties, what would become of our society our civilisation? "This is a serious question that deserves very serious consideration by the Scottish Government. Accordingly, we urge the Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to look very seriously at this fundamentally important issue and to reconsider the full implications of what she is proposing.

"We wish to inform both her and First Minister Alex Salmond that we are deeply unhappy and vigorously opposed to the proposed legislation for same-sex marriage. "There is no scope for compromise on this issue and we simply say this: No to same-sex marriage." A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The consultation on same-sex marriage and registration of civil partnerships has now closed and we are now analysing the responses and considering what next steps to take. "As was made clear when the consultation was launched, while we have expressed our initial view, we have given an assurance that all opinions will be listened to, no final views have been reached and therefore no decisions have been taken. "The analysis of the responses will be published later in the spring."